My recent freezer forage turned up a lot of home-grown borlotti beans. These speckled beauties are good simply cooked with aromatics and dressed with olive oil, herbs and lemon zest and juice, but they’re even better in this rich tomato sauce. I added spinach because I had a big bag in the fridge, but you can use kale or chard, too.
Borlotti beans with tomatoes and spinach make a substantial vegan/veggie meal, served over polenta or spooned onto garlicy bruschetta. Meat eaters might like this as a side, perhaps with lamb. Italian-inspired, it’s a simple dish but so good.
Add capers and/or pitted black olives to the sauce, the olives with the tomatoes, the capers stirred in towards the end. (You may wish to omit the spinach.) Throw in a few chilli flakes. Or if you eat meat, use diced pancetta, added and lightly fried after you’ve softened the onions.
You can make this with dried borlotti beans – soak them overnight first – or tinned. If using tinned beans, drain and add them once the tomato sauce has cooked down. Let them simmer very gently for 10 minutes, and if you have time, take them off the heat to soak up the flavours for an hour or two before proceeding with the recipe.
If using kale, wash it, remove the ribs, and shred the leaves. It will need longer cooking than the spinach. If using chard, remove the ribs and stems, chop, and add after the onions. The shredded leaves can be added as the spinach is here, but will also take a little longer to cook.
If you have freezer space (hah!) it’s worth making double, stopping before adding the spinach. Defrost and reheat gently, wilting in the spinach just before serving.
Borlotti Beans with Tomatoes and Spinach
Ingredients for the beans:
400g fresh or frozen borlotti beans
2 shallots or 1 small onion, peeled and left whole
1 stick of celery, halved
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
Salt (add later if using dried beans)
For the sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and diced
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
1 sprig of rosemary
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tin of tomatoes, chopped (or equivalent in fresh tomatoes, skinned)
Salt and pepper
Pinch of sugar
150g spinach, washed and drained
Put the beans in a saucepan with the onion, celery and herbs. Add enough water to come above the beans by about 2.5 cm/1″. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil, skimming off any scum that rises. Reduce the heat and simmer until tender. Drain and set aside.
If you’re using pre-soaked dried beans (you’ll need to start with about 200g), use more water and don’t add salt. Adjust the seasoning in the sauce later.
For the sauce, add the olive oil to a saucepan and put on a medium heat. Fry the onions, sprinkled with a little salt and pepper and stirring from time to time, until soft and golden. Add the garlic and herbs and cook for a few minutes more.
Scrape a hole in the middle and squeeze in the tomato paste. Cook it off for a few minutes – this helps rid it of any harshness. Pour in the chopped tomatoes, add a pinch of sugar, and simmer until rich and fairly thick. Check the seasoning.
Put the drained beans in the tomato sauce and reheat gently. Place the washed and drained spinach on top (it’s okay if there’s a little water clinging to the leaves) and clamp on a lid. Cook until wilted, just a few minutes. Stir it through and serve straight away.